I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty thousand angels from the great beyond
Tied me to the table right here in the Tower of Song
from “Tower of Song”, taken from the album I’m Your Man
Leonard Cohen passed away earlier this week at his Los Angeles home. He was 82 years old and had been in poor health for some time. He is being mourned internationally by music fans of all stripes for his inimitable songwriting. In his own words, he “brought poetry to the jukebox”.
From the time of self-titled debut album in 1967, he was often hailed as the finest songwriter ever to come out of Canada. The songs on that record remain fresh and contemporary even to new music fans in this century. The flowing mixture of sensuality and spirituality evoked in “Suzanne”, the mystery of “The Stranger Song”, and the quiet beauty of “Sisters of Mercy”, sung and performed in a minimalistic fashion, were 50 years ahead of their time. These are songs that will be performed and treasured for decades to come.
His final 3 albums, Old Ideas, Popular Problems, and the recently released You Want It Darker, show a writer at the peak of his talents, one who achieved a combination of simplicity and depth unknown in popular music. But then Cohen was always his own man, always one on his own path. He didn’t always know where the path was leading him, but he always managed to “get ready for the struggle”.
He spoke of songwriting as “hard work”. We live in an era where most songwriters are content to release half-finished material, polished by glittering production and absent of lasting musical value. Cohen rose above them, reaching the exalted levels of his own musical and poetical heroes: Hank Williams, Ray Charles, and Federico Garcia Lorca.
To rephrase a few lines from one of Cohen’s own most beautiful poems, (For Annie) from his early days:
Whose songs to compare with those of Cohen,
Not that I did compare
But I do, now that he’s gone
Leonard Cohen will be more than missed – he will be celebrated for decades to come as one of the truly great songwriters of all time. Now that the Nobel Prize committee has seen fit to honour Bob Dylan with the prize for Literature, they certainly missed the opportunity recognize Cohen as well. Leonard disdained prizes (having turned down the Governor-General’s Award back in the 1960s) but this is one the world would have embraced.